by Roy Saunderson | January 19, 2016
When talking about recognition and rewards programs, the word "budget" is sure to come up. There are few owners of corporate recognition programs who have not dealt with one cut or another over their lifetime. Recently I asked ten seasoned practitioners responsible for recognition programs for their budgeting advice. Their wisdom informs this month's column on the top ten powerful ways to save your recognition budget.

1. Get strategic with your recognition budgets. Look at the different types of recognition programs and initiatives available to you; budget where you will gain the greatest business impact and positive response. Align recognition to achieve strategic initiatives and let the culture drive recognition.

2. Measure recognition program effectiveness. Consistently measure both program usage metrics as well as employee perception of recognition effectiveness to learn which employees are impacted the most. Move beyond just reports to actually analyze the data and correle with your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

3. Create a sustainable program budget. It is critical to create the business case for your recognition program budget, one that is sustainable year-over-year by your senior leaders. With a sustainable budget you can more likely add to it rather than it becoming the recurring target for cuts whenever financial problems arise.

4. Build in internal and external accountability. Assign recognition and rewards budgets to each departmental leader and use the program data to hold leaders accountable. Hold external providers accountable by checking regularly on program usage and spend to reduce costs where programs are not having an impact.

5. Do a reality check on program equality and accessibility. Correct expectations and educate leaders when not all employees are getting the same benefit of recognition as others. Programs need to be accessible to all parties even if the criteria needs to be established differently for the various business units.

6. Research everything and do your homework. Keep up with the latest research findings from professional associations, conference boards, academic institutions, and consultants. Mesh their data with the results you're getting from your programs. Do interviews and focus groups to collect internal data and compare findings.

7. Prioritize and shake things up. Money has an amazing way of adjusting priorities. Nice-to-have must take second place to need-to-have when budgets are tight. If its stuck too much to the tried-and-true, a recognition strategy may dictate a shake-up to achieve more meaningful business and people goals.

8. Demonstrate program impact and ROI. Leaders always want to know the results they get from the money they invest. All recognition programs must demonstrate some form of business impact and, where feasible, a calculated ROI. Sometimes the benefit is relational and simply keeping people happy.

9. Be transparent with everyone across the company. When recognition budgets are targeted for cuts, it is every leader's problem, not just HR's. Communicate needs to leaders and brainstorm ideas. Gain everyone's support for keeping recognition and doing recognition differently. Don't work in isolation; be open to employee input as well.

10. Collaborate inside and outside the organization. Ask your fellow leaders across the organization for ways to save money and use internal resources for typically outsourced work. Consider shortening the length of conferences or award events. Use less expensive award items. Be candid with your vendors and get their input too.

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is author of Giving the Real Recognition Way and is the Chief Learning Officer of Rideau's Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training company which helps leaders and managers get recognition right. He can be reached at [email protected] Also, check out the library of Real Recognition Radio shows.